Sunday, June 23, 2024

The Best Travel Bags for Your Edible Souvenirs

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I’ve traveled abroad a lot, and as a result, I’ve decided I don’t believe in souvenirs that aren’t edible. I want my loved ones to actually like the souvenirs I bring back, and I’ve found that fish paste in a tube, sticky rice cakes wrapped in seaweed, and licorice cookies get a much more enthusiastic response than an Eiffel Tower key chain ever would. And buying food for friends means I get to poke around grocery stores abroad, lusting after all of the local cheeses and marveling at the way the cereal packaging manages to be so much cuter.

But as much as I love surprising someone with tinned sardines from Portugal and pineapple cakes from Taiwan, these types of souvenirs can be tricky to pack and transport back home safely. Since I already know I have a serious supermarket shopping habit, I’ve started traveling with a second suitcase exclusively for bringing home edible gifts.

Even if you’re not ready for that whole checked-bag level of commitment to the food souvenir, choosing a carry-on that’s well designed for packing a few food souvenirs will mean your friends can experience that life-changing cookie you ate, even if they didn’t get the vacation that went along with it. Now that I’ve built almost a 20-year reputation for bringing back delicious snacks, I’m comfortable saying that I have mastered the art of packing food souvenirs—with no squashed panettone and zero broken bottles to date. Here are my favorite travel bags for carrying edible gifts home.

What to look for in a travel bag

The best travel bags for food souvenirs don’t have to be expensive or specialized—though this list does include some luxe options for carrying your hyper-regional Lay’s potato chips in style. Look for bags that are lightweight, durable, and comfortable to carry once you’ve stuffed them with Korean tteok, Swiss pralines, and Argentinian alfajores.

It’s also a good idea to choose a material that’s easy to clean because spills, broken containers, and other mishaps are more likely to happen with edible souvenirs than with, say, a plush toy koala or plastic magnet.

Finally, the ideal travel bag for snacks features lots of sections and compartments; that way you can tuck little jars into safe spaces where they won’t clank against each other. You might consider investing in a set of packing cubes, as well, for even more potential spill containment and insulation.

OlarHike Packing Cubes (Set of 8)

REI Co-op Expandable Packing Cube Set

A Multipurpose Adventurer’s Bag

FjallRaven High Coast Duffle 36

You might think this bag is for outdoorsy types—the kind of person whose ideal vacation involves long hikes through desert dunes rather than traversing cities to find niche Haribo flavors. But it’s actually perfect for food souvenirs. The duffle bag has a spacious main compartment that’s great for fitting in large food items you don’t want to crush, like meter-long seaweed snacks. It’s also convertible so you can wear it as a backpack or remove the straps entirely.

A Timeless Expandable Tote

Longchamp 21-Inch Expandable Travel Bag

Longchamp Le Pliage Original Weekender

My mom and her sisters have carried Longchamp since the ’90s, and I still turn to this iconic French brand for all my food souvenir shopping escapades. Longchamp’s bags are incredibly light and can fold up to fit into the palm of your hand when they’re not in use, making them an optimal extra bag to tuck into your suitcase for filling with gifts for the trip home. The versatile and expandable Le Pliage is my current favorite. It’s roomy, and the recycled polyamide material is a breeze to clean with a wet towel if something like a bottle of shampoo (or a local jam) bursts in the bag. When you go overboard shopping for food souvenirs, it expands into a larger tote—nifty for packing extra packets of German lebkuchen.

And a Slightly Larger Version

For bigger trips abroad and visits to countries known for cute pasta shapes and hard-to-find ancient rice varieties, I recommend Longchamp’s Le Pliage Energy Weekender Bag. It’s lightweight for its size with a more structured base that helps me organize my souvenirs efficiently.

More Than Just a Gym Bag

Kipling Argus Small Duffle Bag

I’ve always been a fan of Kipling bags because the water-resistant nylon material is lightweight. The dual handle makes the bag easy to carry, and it also features a shoulder strap. Most important, though, this bag has an additional shoe compartment because it is meant for the gym—but why pack an extra pair of shoes when you can use the extra space for a box of wagashi from Tokyo?

A Cheers-Worthy Wine Keeper

FlyWithWine Universal Travel Wine Suitcase

When I’m traveling to a wine-producing region and know I’ll want to bring home a few bottles, I wrap that Bordeaux or Torrontés in clothes and nestle it into my hard-shell luggage. However, if you are a wine collector and want a TSA-approved wine suitcase, this is one of the most affordable options on the market. It can fit a full case of wine and is lined with high-density foam to stop bottles from moving around. This lightweight suitcase is perfect for trips to California or Pacific Northwest wine regions because it fits the American standard wine bottle perfectly. A full case of Champagne bottles might be a tight squeeze, though, which is a good excuse to bring some friends along on your next trip.

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